Earlier this week, Marvel revealed its plans to have a new character don the role of Iron Man. Riri Williams, a new character created in the International Iron Man series will be the new Iron Man. This follows a trend by Marvel of replacing their most popular and prominent characters with fresh faces that represent an under-represented races or gender. More diversity in comics is great right? This announcement has been met with a mixture of controversy and praise. So as an African American male, how do I feel? Well, that might actually surprise you.
First of all, let me preface by saying that I admire and appreciate Marvel’s gall in attempting to bring more diverse characters to the forefront. The fact that they actually have the cajones to replace their big three with a black man, a woman, and a black female is astonishing. But is it necessary? Is this posturing by Marvel truly solving the issue of diversity in comics? That is truly the question at play.
The demographics of the United States-as has always been the case- are ever changing, becoming more and more diverse. With the advent of social media, minority voices have become stronger, raising awareness of issues that were disregarded or swept under the rug before. For decades the comicbook industry has been dominated by one particular demographic. Sure, we have our Wonder Woman’s and Black Panthers but for the most part, most of the superheroes, villains, and side-kicks, what-have-you, have been of that one particular demographic.
Lately, both of the Big two companies have tried incorporating some diversity into their lineups with marginal success. We’ve got an Earth 2 Black Superman and a Hispanic Jaime Reyes, A black Wally West and both a Muslim and Latino Green Lantern. So no, Marvel isn’t the only company doing this, they are just doing it on a grand scale. In the past couple of years, Marvel has introduced: Miles Morales into the main universe continuity, Introduced Kamala Khan as the new Ms. Marvel, X-23 has become the wolverine, the original Xmen have returned from the past and Iceman has been revealed as gay, Jane Foster has picked up Thor’s Hammer becoming Thor, Falcon became Captain America, Amadeus Cho is the new Hulk, and now Riri Williams has become Ironman-woman.
So what’s the problem? Well the issue is two-fold. For one, what about those characters being replaced? It’s not like they are dying (that doesn’t really happen in comics). Are the moves being used for character growth and to tell new stories? Well not necessarily. Where has Odinson been? Losing the hammer should be devastating considering it practically was his identity for his entire existence. What happens when Marvel decides to bring these characters back?
When Falcon became Captain America, it too generated a lot of buzz. I bet you thought the same thing I did. Yeah right, this will not last. I give it a year. To Marvel’s credit, Sam Wilson is still Captain America. But they did exactly what we thought they would, brought Steve Rogers back. Now we have a universe with two Captain Americas. Sam Wilson isn’t The Falcon any more he’s the black Captain America.
Granted some of these moves made since. For example X-23 was a female clone of Wolverine who had been a part of the Xmen for over a decade. When Wolverine “died,” she was the perfect replacement. However, we still have Old Man Logan roaming around. Miles Morales was consolidated into the main universe after Secret Wars. This move made sense. Miles is a beloved character that in his universe had become that world’s Spiderman. But in this universe, Peter Parker is still Spiderman. Hence we have a conundrum. Inadvertently, Miles has become the black Spiderman. Based on the teasers released by Marvel, the old Thor-now known as the Odinson- is returning. I wonder if somehow he gets some form of his powers back. Could we have two Thors soon as well?
Do you see the problem? Soon there will be a POC or female version of these main characters and ultimately it will just cheapen them. Now we have an announcement of this character Riri Williams taking the mantle of Iron Man. In the teaser image, Riri is quite literally cast in the shadow of Tony Stark. Tony Stark is Marvel’s most popular character. How long will it be before Tony Stark Iron Man returns? How long will it be before Riri is the black Iron Man?
Maybe I should just chill out. Maybe I should check myself. But the issue here is the approach in which these companies are trying to solve their diversity issues. Riri Williams sounds like an excellent character with an interesting background. I’m going to give her a change as everyone should (even though we all know the fact that she’s replacing Iron Man just hurt her chances amongst some sectors of the comicbook community). Also for the record, the current run of Captain America: Sam Wilson by Nick Spencer has been excellent.
But you know who else is an interesting character that even looks similar to Riri, Misty Knight. I wasn’t even aware of that fact until I saw mention of it in the Twitter reactions to the Riri announcement. She even has a cybernetic limb constructed by Tony Stark. Why not promote a character like that? She doesn’t have to wear the suit. Give her some Iron Man-esque upgrades on her arm and have her carry on the Iron Man legacy.
Same storyline could have been utilized with Sam Wilson. He could have been given the shield and tasked with caring on Steve’s legacy without losing his own superhero identity. That is my main issue with Marvel’s wave of diversity. Why do all of these POC and female characters have to stand in the shadow of their more established counterparts?
I think it is excellent that Marvel has decided to inject diversity into comics. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate their effects. Last month Marvel announced the launch of Mosaic a new POC character. Mosaic will be a new original concept, not a version of some current character. I appreciate their audacity to supplant popular characters with fresh faces of color. Its great young women and people of color can look at a superhero and say “I can be Captain America or Thor too.” But I say that they don’t need to feel like they have to be a Captain America, Thor, or Iron Man. We need more Mosaics and less black/latino/female versions of established superheroes.
Boost the importance of some of the minority characters you have as you add new POC, LGBT, and Female characters to the universe. Take Black Panther for example. Put him in a movie (not even his own might I add), give him a new on-going series, and attach a great writer to the title, and a character with marginal success in the past is flying off the shelves.
This isn’t an issue of chance aversion. I have no issues with chance if it fits in the context of the story. This isn’t about racism. I’m black arguing against Marvel’s new diverse lineup. This is about solving a problem with a band-aid instead of surgery. Instead of creatively establishing new characters while raising other characters from their extended library (which Marvel has gotten better at in recent years), they are defaulting to the easy path. Marvel is overlooking the need to hire more people of color and female writers to tell the stories of these new characters.
The point is, POC/Female/LGBT kids shouldn’t have to grown up feeling like they can pretend and dress up like the black/latino/female versions of these heroes (trust me we do that anyways). Instead give them their own superheroes to identify with. They can be Luke Cage, Black Panther, and Storm. They can be Dusk, Captain Marvel, and Sunspot. Yes, they could even be The Falcon, Jane Foster, and Riri Williams, but give those heroes their own brand and identity instead of sending the message that a POC or female has to exist in the shadow of another demographic.